Of all the instructions distributed to Crestwood High School seniors two months before their graduation ceremony, one was unmissable.

“PLEASE BE ON TIME,” a full-page letter from the principal of the Sumter, S.C., school stated in bold and all caps. Twice.

“Late arrival could result in a senior being removed from the line,” the letter warned, before moving on to a lengthy section on the specific clothing allowed at graduation.

Austin Matula no doubt had all of these rules in mind Friday when he found himself on the verge of missing his graduation for reasons both temporal and sartorial.

He had arrived at the Sumter County Civic Center early and noticed that his car was low on coolant.


“I went to go check it, and when I went to go twist the top, it blew up in my face,” Matula told The Washington Post on Sunday. “It burned my face a little bit, burned my hands and my arms.”


His long-sleeved, button-down white dress shirt — the one that was mandated for male graduates — was covered in antifreeze. Matula took it off before the coolant could soak through and burn his skin under a class T-shirt.

A friend called 911, and an ambulance arrived. Paramedics helped rinse his face and mouth. But he was without a shirt — and watched as the rest of the Crestwood senior class started to line up outside the building.

That’s when two Sumter County sheriff’s deputies stepped in.


Isaac McLeod and Fred Brantley were at the civic center when they saw the ambulance in the parking lot and walked over to see what was going on. They found Matula with his burns under control but nevertheless about to miss what should have been one of the most significant moments in his young life.

We love our friends in law enforcement! Crestwood senior, Austin Matula, was on his way to graduation when he had car…

Posted by Sumter School District on Friday, June 8, 2018

Matula said the deputies reassured him that he would be able to walk with his class and that they would get a new shirt for him.


“I think Brantley stayed the whole time, and he helped me out while the other officer went and got the shirt,” Matula said.

The Sumter County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The next thing Matula knew, McLeod had returned with a brand-new shirt, and the two deputies were helping him adjust his tie and gown. He was able to line up just in time.


It was a graduation he won’t soon forget, Matula said.

“The rest of the ceremony went fine,” he said. “I had a rag on my hand when I went to go get my diploma.”

According a Facebook post by the Sumter School District, McLeod and Brantley bought a new dress shirt so Matula would have “a proper shirt to wear” as he accepted his high school diploma.

It was a gift from the heart, McLeod told the school district.

Austin’s mother, Debbie Matula, said she did “not have a clue” where the deputy had been able to find a new shirt in time, but she is grateful the officers ensured that her son had a smooth graduation.


“I was very appreciative of the fact that someone stepped in to take care of him,” she said. “It was very touching. It meant the world to us knowing there are kind hearts out there.”

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